Serious Small Knives:
I tested five knives with blades of two inches or less, all of which offer fuller grips and far greater utility than the traditional pen knife or mini locking folder. The blade length was chosen to comply with the law (OCGA 16-11-127.1) that specifies two inches maximum blade length for legal carry on any school campus in Georgia, including colleges and universities. I think this review is also useful for anyone who lives or works somewhere else with regulations that severely limit permissible blade length.
The photo below shows all five knives in the order they are reviewed here. The two lights shown for size comparison are a Surefire EB1 backup, and a Klarus P1C.
Spyderco Meerkat 2012 Sprint Run: This is one of Spyderco’s “Little Big Knives” and that phrase is what really got me started down the path to this review. It has the same Phantom Lock lockback mechanism of all the other Meerkats, and Spyderco’s excellent deep carry wire pocket clip. The 2012 version featured a leaf shaped full flat grind plain edge blade made from VG-10 steel. This is my favorite blade shape from Spyderco, and the Meerkat is one of the smoothest opening and closing lockbacks I’ve ever used. GA campus legal 2″ blade aside, this is one of the absolute coolest knives I’ve ever owned. Limited availability – sprint runs every two or three years – and the roughly $75 price tag make this more of a knife for the aficionado though. More details in the video.
Spyderco Chicago: I had mixed feelings about this knife. At $35-$40 online it’s not terribly expensive, but it’s not an economy folder either. The Chicago is basically a chopped Spyderco Cat with a blade just a hair under 2 inches long to comply with the law in, you guessed it, Chicago (and other restrictive places). The Chicago also loses the excellent jimping found on the finger choil and behind the opening hole on the blade spine that’s found on the Cat. It retains the steel liners, medium traction G10 scales, 440C stainless blade steel, and Spyderco’s excellent deep carry wire pocket clip that are found on the Cat. Fit and finish were excellent on my example, but the blade wasn’t very sharp out of the box (although it sharpened to a razor edge very easily on my DMT Diafold). In the end, in use it just felt like the shrunken Cat that it is, rather than a purpose built serious small knife like the others I reviewed. This one didn’t make the video.
Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite: This little gem from Cold Steel Knives has some minor flaws that I outlined in the video, but it also has some major strengths. In use it’s actually very comparable to the Meerkat, but it’s widely available, and can even be found for a few cents under $25 on Amazon. If it weren’t for the Boker Plus Subcom Titan, cold Steel’s Mini Tuff Lite would have been the best value of the knives I tested. This was the least expensive knife I tested, and in performance it tied or was just behind the most expensive knife I tested, the Spyderco Meerkat. Again, there are more details in the video, but the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite is an exceptional buy if looking strictly at the price to performance ratio.
Boker Plus Chad Los Banos Subcom Titan: The Titan is the all-titanium handle and 440C blade steel special edition of the excellent Chad Los Banos designed Subcom folder from Boker Plus. For those not familiar with them, Boker’s Plus line of knives is their mid-tier range of tactical blades that are made in China and Taiwan. At the time I purchased it, the Titan was $33 on Amazon, only $5 more than the standard Subcom was on Amazon. So, I decided to step up to the Titan for this review. Again, factor out blade length, and this is still an excellent buy considering the materials, price, and performance. In the near future I’d like to get a standard AUS8 blade, steel back scale, and plastic front scale Subcom to compare to the Titan and the CS Mini Tuff Lite.
Boker Plus Chad Los Banos JC1: I ordered the JC1 after I was so pleased with the Titan. The JC1 is another of the knives I had mixed feelings about. The design has huge potential, but Boker’s Plus factory in China didn’t execute this one nearly as well as they did the Subcom Titan, nor the numerous standard Subcom folders I’ve handled in the past. The JC1 still has a blade just under two inches, but it sits lower when opened (see photos), which I really liked. Like the standard Subcom folders the JC1 has a stainless steel frame locking back scale, and a textured plastic faux G10 front scale. The JC1 has a much larger handle, though. This larger handle provides a true full size folder grip, but the steel frame construction gives it significant weight. I could overlook the weight if it weren’t for the blade issues. First is an unnecessary, and poorly and unevenly applied gray coating on the 440C blade. Next, for some baffling reason, the JC1′s blade also has three cross drilled holes at the upper rear of the blade where a thumb stud would normally be, but there is no thumb stud. Using the traction provided by the holes the blade is very easy to open one handed, and locks up solidly. However, I still did a little redneck engineering and crafted my own thumb stud from a bolt and a couple of nuts off the hardware store shelf. Last, the blade wasn’t particularly sharp out of the box, but it also sharpened up fairly easily on the DMT Diafold. There were many things I liked about the JC1, but it just feels like an unfinished thought. The JC1 sells for around $35 online. Given the similarly and lower-priced competition (some even from within Boker Plus), the JC1 just had too many flaws to forgive for the price. If Boker added a thumb stud and brought the JC1 up to the same level of fit and finish as the Subcom line they’d have a winner in the small serious knives category.
The Spyderco Meerkat justifies its price and limited availability by providing refined design, premium materials, and outstanding build quality. The Mini Tuff Lite has a very strong design that’s quite well made with solid materials. Cold Steel’s superb execution resulted in this folder far outperforming its bargain price. The Boker Plus Subcom Titan is more than just a special edition knife. By upgrading this Chad Los Banos design with premium materials and maintaining the Subcom line’s excellent build quality Boker has delivered a beautiful knife that performs very well. The Spyderco Chicago is also well built with quality materials. However, chopping the Spyderco Cat design throws off the proportions. In contrast, the Boker Plus Chad Los Banos JC1′s mundane materials and mediocre build quality cause this excellent design to fall far short of its potential.
Check back soon for Part II – The Fixed Blades.
The video is located at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ujl0m2whgNg